Giants’ Belt doesn’t want to be the one not to wear a mask

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — There they were, in a stadium that had become a practice field, getting ready for a season that has become a question mark.

It’s mid-July, by which time baseball is supposed to have provided clarity. Tradition holds, if not always correctly, that the teams in front this time of year will be winners.

Read the histories. Read the papers. “Heaven Can Wait; Angels First on the Fourth,” was a memorable headline by the L.A. Times’ Mal Florence in 1962, the second season for the expansion franchise.

That the Angels ended up third almost became irrelevant.

Now we’re the ones waiting, and plugging in.

The press box at Oracle Park that was packed Friday — the first day this late spring camp opened — was very unpacked Sunday. Understandably. Even media in attendance can get no closer to players than a video conference call.

Strange, but not so strange. The new normal. PGA Tour tournaments without fans. NASCAR drivers in masks. Instead of the lineups, the big scoreboard in centerfield at Oracle had instructions for Giants team members.

This is the way it is in the year 2020. And may be for a while. The coronavirus rules us, no matter what politicians contend.

The talk is of college football in the spring. The NFL continues to pare down a schedule once believed untouchable. The NBA has headed into a bubble with a lot of plans and almost as many doubts. And those who haven’t backed away from Major League Baseball's return, as David Price and Mike Leake have, suggest that they still very well could.

Some are more concerned than others. But everyone is concerned. As Giants veteran first baseman Brandon Belt conceded.

No whining, just acknowledging. “It is what it is,” said Belt, “and this is the card we’re dealt.”

The idea in any sport is to assume control. To break off that curve with a 3-2 count and the bases loaded. To hold off the defenders until the wide receiver gets open.

Now we’re being controlled by a foe visible only under a microscope. We’re restricted, we’re bewildered. The little things confound as much as the larger ones.

As a first baseman — with occasional time in the outfield — Belt is always talking to base runners. As a teammate, Belt is always high-fiving fellow Giants.

Those actions won’t work in this era of social distancing.

"I hadn’t thought about those,” said Belt. “I’ll have to try not to get in anybody’s face, probably do less talking than I should.”

Belt is 31, a Giant for more than eight years, a team spokesman, perhaps with Brandon Crawford the last of an aging guard. He has tried to modify his swing to hit more line drives rather than fly balls, which seem to hang like the moon beyond the right field fence.

Yes, the unsocial distance to the wall has been decreased some because — finally, over the winter — bullpens were constructed in the outfield after years inside either foul line. Still, there’s that San Francisco chill and wind.

”Because of the weather,” reminded Belt, “how well you hit the the ball doesn’t always equate.”

Often, nothing in life equates. Belt apparently was making progress in February when the Giants were in Arizona and in spring training. Then came a halt to the world. He returned home to Nacogdoches, Texas, northeast of Houston, and worked out at his high school.

The good news is there were plenty of wide-open spaces and very few cases of the virus. Yet he is not unaware of what is happening.

“It’s hard to say we come back without reservation,” Belt said. “I don’t want to put my family in trouble or other families. We have to stay with the protocols. There are more people in the Bay Area. I don’t want to be the guy not to wear a mask.

“It’s different than back home, and I understand.”